Ask and They Will Tell You

"I have learned many things from my teachers; I have learned many things from my friends; and I have learned even more from my students." 
        The Talmud 
The students that I teach have much to say. Children come into the world with a desire to learn, until told otherwise. Children come into the world trusting, until confronted by a society and adults they cannot trust. I teach in the Detroit Public School District. It is a district that has continually received local and national attention; most of it negative. With the issues of school reform, teachers' strikes, and standardized testing pushed to the forefront, it is often the children, the "customers" of every teacher, who get relegated to the background. The student population in Detroit is 98% African American and tend to reflect the socioeconomic level of the community in which they are located. In Detroit's case, it renders them voiceless, if not totally powerless. 
Poor children, black and white often attend schools, where they are subjected to learning in oversized classrooms, a shortage of textbooks (outdated) and are taught by ill-prepared teachers. The schools lack advanced courses that challenge and have few computers. The students are then expected to perform on standardized tests for which they have not been prepared. 
Most of the students I teach have a strong sense of their reality. They know just how much or little they are valued by society. The students who have written the following poems have been labeled "Learning Disabled." They worked from a "skeleton" asking them to describe themselves, their wants, wishes and desires. These poems were written "from the heart," with no hidden political, economic, or social agendas. Hopefully, it will remind us, in the midst of all the rhetoric and talk about education "reform" it is the needs of the children that must come first. 

Nancy C. Lee 
Detroit Public School Teacher 

by Carl Ridley (age 14) 
I am somebody. 
I wonder will I make it in life. 
I hear people talking about me. 
I see myself doing well in life. 
I want to finish Pershing High School 
I am somebody. 
I pretend that I am not labeled "learning disabled." 
I feel pain. 
I tough my Dad in his coffin. 
I worry about my Mom 
I cry when I see Black people die. 
I am somebody. 
I understand that life is not to be played with; 
it is time to become serious. 
I say "No" to drugs 
I dream that I will be somebody. 
I try my best in school. 
I hope to have a family. 
I am somebody. 
I Am
Black Man (Ronte Hill) 
I am Black in a live world. 
I wonder if I will live to see another day. 
I hear death knock at my front door. 
I see violence. 
I want to get out. 
I am Black in a live world. 

I pretend I am rich. 
I feel my soul leaving my body... 
I touch cold 
I worry never more. 
I cry blood 
I am Black in a live world. 
I understand the world is a dangerous place. 
I say I am a man, but I am a boy. 
I dream about being a football star. 
I try to stay alive. 
I hope I can just get out. 
I am Black in a live world.

Davina Love 
I am a strong Black beautiful my book. 
I wonder what I will be like in the future. 
I hear the birds singing in the morning 
I see myself reaching for my goals 
I want to live to see each day 
I am a strong black beautiful my book. 
I pretend when I'm in my room by myself, that I'm on an island. 
I feel thankful when I get to see another day. 
I worry when I walk home by myself. 
I cry when I'm sad. 
I am a strong black beautiful my book. 
I understand when my parents tell me right from wrong. 
I say to myself, "You are going to be somebody in life." 
I dream that life is wonderful. 
I try to be patient. 
I hope I can help the needy in life, one day. 
I am a strong, black beautiful my book.
San Juan Palmer (age 16) 
I am a strong leader and it's hard to keep up with me. 
I wonder when I will die. 
I heard bullets, ut all I felt was hot lead. 
I see that I'm a soldier in God's vision. 
I want to get a billion...I am a strong survivor. 
I am a strong leader and it's hard to keep up with me. 
I pretend to be someone I'm not. 
I feel the rain, but the mercy was pain. 
I touch money like Bill Gates got billions. 
I worry about my life...knowing the world is just a game. 
I cried when I took a bullet.I am a strong person with my lyrics...they're like potent venom. 
I am a strong leader and it's hard to keep up with me 
I understand that when you read the Bible it says every death means something. 
I say money is the rule of all evil. 
I dream about stuff that I did in the past. 
I try to go the right way, but the streets keep calling me. 
I hope that one day all my thugs will be free. 
I am strong in the mind nearly...from colored blind. 
The poems are a result of a classroom assignment given last year.  The students were all given a "skeleton" like the one that follows and were told to use their own descriptions. 
    I am (use your own description) 
    I wonder (something you think about...real or imaginary) 
    I hear (somthing real or imaginary) 
    I want (something you want) 
    I am (should match line one) 
    I pretend (what do you pretend to be) 
    I feel (what do you feel when you pretend) 
    I touch (can be real or imaginary) 
    I cry (what makes you cry) 
    I am (matches line #1 in the first stanza) 
    There is a third stanza where the students state what they understand, what they dream, what they say, what they try, and what they hope for.  The last line of the pose is to match the 1st line from the first stanza. 
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